I may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this page.
There are many web browsers available for Mac, but most of us are familiar with the big three: Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. Which one should you choose? By and large, it comes down to personal preference. They all work similarly well. In general, if you don’t have a strong preference I will generally recommend Safari. But there are good reasons to choose any one of them. And a few other browsers to consider that you might not be familiar with. But are you happy with your current web browser? If so it’s probably not worth switching unless you are using Google Chrome and looking to improve your privacy.
I know, I know, this is a long article so let me distill it down and put my conclusion at the beginning that will be good advice for probably 9/10 people, in order of my preference:
- Choose Safari if you are fully in the Apple ecosystem and want the simplest experience and easiest syncing with your other Apple devices.
- Choose Brave if you like Google Chrome but want better privacy (and use a password manager or don’t need password syncing)
- Choose Firefox if you want a cross-platform browser with a built-in password manager
- Choose Edge if you want a cross-platform Chrome-based browser with a built-in password manager
- Stick with your current browser if you are satisfied.
What is a web browser? If you know the answer you can skip this paragraph. A web browser is an app on your computer that allows you to see a website such as apple.com or wikipedia.org. It doesn’t really do much on its own apart from give you a lens through which you see the internet. Don’t confuse this with a search engine. A search engine is a specific kind of website that offers a searchable catalog of the internet. Think of it this way: a web browser is like your television, and a search engine is like the channel guide or the TV Guide magazine. The most common search engine is Google Search. And since Google Search was the first thing that the company ever did, it is what people think of first when you say “Google”. However, Google Chrome is their web browser, which has nothing to do with Google Search other than it being made by the same company. You can use Google Chrome to access any website and Google Search can be accessed using any browser.
You may find many articles that compare the speed of various browsers, but in my opinion, that’s a wild goose chase. All web browsers are in strong competition with each other so the fastest one at any given time changes constantly.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.
Safari is the best for most Mac users, especially if you are fully within the Apple ecosystem. It’s the fastest and most power-efficient browser, and it actively works to protect your privacy. If you don’t have specific reasons to choose another browser this is the one I recommend for Mac users.
- Already installed on your Mac
- By far the most power-efficient browser for Mac
- Bookmarks and history sync with Safari on iPhone and iPad
- Integration with iCloud Keychain, the best built-in password manager in my opinion
- Automatically enters two-factor text message codes
- Support for Apple Pay
- Plugins are all reviewed by Apple to avoid malware
- Excellent privacy control and tracker blocking
- Limited options for browser plugins, though if you don’t use many plugins that’s not a huge deal
- Some websites don’t work well with Safari, in particular, some government and bank websites, so you may have to have another web browser for occasional use.
- If you use Android or Windows devices the syncing options are limited
- Since updates are built into system software updates, if you aren’t keeping your system up-to-date you will no longer get security and feature updates for Safari
Many people mistakingly believe that if you use Google products such as Gmail you are best off using (or have to use) Google Chrome. But pretty much everything works just as well on any browser except for a few specific features such as the ability to see your Gmail or selected Google Docs in offline mode, or the ability to do a screen share in Google Meet.
Google Chrome is best for people who are more entrenched in the Google ecosystem, especially if you use Chromebook or Android devices.
- The most popular web browser so it is compatible with virtually every website
- Great syncing to non-Apple devices, Google Chromebook in particular
- Multiple profiles allow you to have completely different sets of bookmarks, history, logins, and plugins for different purposes or users, though this feature can really get in the way if you don’t need it
- Allows you to use Google Docs and Gmail in offline mode
- Support for older versions of macOS, currently as far back as macOS 10.13 High Sierra as of January 2023. For current requirements see Google’s article on the subject.
- Many people have privacy concerns about exposing even more data to Google whose primary business is advertising
- Famous for tearing through Mac batteries and is more likely to spin up your cooling fans
- Plugin marketplace is full of scams and malware, so be careful with plugins!
Firefox has been around for ages (1998!) so it certainly has some brand recognition. The nonprofit owner, Mozilla, is focused on security and privacy, and that is certainly reflected in their product. Firefox is a good choice for people who also use Windows or Linux and want an exceptionally secure and private web browser with consistency on all of their computers, or for people who tend to use their Macs far longer than recommended since Firefox is often the last web browser to stop supporting old versions of macOS.
- Good privacy settings
- Great plugin library
- Is the only cross-platform browser that is privacy-minded and has a built-in synced password manager
- Support for older versions of macOS, as far back as macOS 10.12 Sierra as of January 2023. See the Mozilla Support article for current requirements.
- While the extension library is very good, it’s not as vast as Google
- My experience is that battery life on portable Macs isn’t as good
Those are the big three but there are two other serious options to consider. Both are based on “Chromium” which is the open-source software behind Google Chrome. In short, this means that they work as well as Chrome but all of the Google-specific things such as tracking and syncing have been stripped out. These are good options if you want the power and features of Chrome but with better privacy.
Microsoft Edge recently replaced the now-discontinued Microsoft Internet Explorer. And it’s actually pretty good. Instead of syncing with your Google account, Edge syncs with your Microsoft account. The general consensus is that Microsoft takes your privacy much more seriously than Google. This is a good option for people who use Windows and like the built-in Edge web browser.
Brave is an excellent web browser with privacy at its core. This includes built-in ad blocking and several technologies that anonymize and protect your browsing data. Brave even uses Chrome extensions and themes. However, the single problem I’ve discovered is that while it does have a built-in password manager that syncs between devices, it is extremely limited. Many people complain that syncing doesn’t happen at all, and Brave, unlike all other major browsers, does not expose its password manager to the system for use in other apps on iPhone and iPad. So this is really only a good option if you use a third-party password manager or if you don’t require password syncing.
What about iPhone and iPad?
Unless you use a third-party password manager such as 1Password, I would recommend that you use the same browser on iPhone and iPad as you do on your computer. This allows your passwords to sync if you use the built-in password manager in your browser. An additional perk is synced bookmarks and history.
Once you install your preferred third-party web browser you will want to do three things:
- Log into your account for that browser just as you do on your computer. This allows your passwords to sync. I won’t get into specifics because each web browser is slightly different. For Chrome, it’s your Google account. For Firefox, it’s a Firefox account that you probably have to create. For Edge, it’s your Microsoft/Live/Outlook account. Brave doesn’t use an account. Instead, you link your devices using a QR code.
- Enable your iPhone/iPad to access the passwords saved in your web browser. This allows you to use those passwords in apps across your iPhone or iPad. Do that in the Settings app > Passwords > AutoFill. Make sure to turn off iCloud Keychain on that screen so that you aren’t dealing with two sets of passwords.
- Change the default browser on your iPhone and iPad.
If you are an existing customer who needs help with this or if you have other questions, or if you are in San Francisco and interested in becoming a client I invite you to book an appointment with me. Otherwise, you may wish to contact Apple Support or find a local Apple consultant.
For more tips like this delivered directly to your inbox sign up for my email list: